Deinstitutionalisation of Childcare: The Case of Bulgaria

Deinstitutionalisation of Childcare: The Case of Bulgaria

Author: Vasil Ivanov
Global Campus of Human Rights, University of Graz, Austria


Approximately eight million children live in institutions around the world, where they are placed for reasons such as violence in the home, poverty, or disability[1]. We call this phenonmenon institutionalization. When it comes to Bulgaria, the country inherited the institutionalized child care system from the communist regime whose ideology was that the state is more suited to look after those children at risk.

Experts characterize institutionalization by aspects such as isolation from the community, lack of control over one’s life and decisions affecting it, etc. Additionally, it often neglects individual needs of the children. To deal with this phenomenon, we need deinstitutionalization. In other words, it is the transition from institutionalized care settings to more familial or community-based environments.[2]

Moreover, deinstitutionalisation needs to be done with the aim not only to relocate children from institutions but also to prevent their initial placement there. Furthermore, we also need fostering alternatives within the community, offering support to both children and families outside of institutional settings.

Need for Deinstitutionalisation:

Placing children in institutions can have a detrimental impact on their physical and emotional development. The main reason for this is the inadequate usage of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. According to it, the state uses the same type and level of care for all children in the institutions, with no consideration of individual children’s age, gender, disabilities, needs, and reasons for separation from parents.

Institutions exhibit the following negative aspects:

  • A routine based on a strict regime –  This leads to children following a prescribed daily schedule with little flexibility.
  • Inadequate ratio of carers to children – The insufficiency of caring adults means that children do not have the opportunity to form a healthy relationship with a significant adult.

As a result, children often show the following negative effects after institutionalisation:

  • Delays in the physical, emotional, and cognitive development of the children
  • An increased risk of development of challenging behaviors, and becoming victimized by emotional, physical, and sexual abuse
  • A lack of individualized care that caters to the individual needs and circumstances of every child
  • Disempowerment and lack of life and practical skills that will help children live independently

Deinstitutionalisation in the Best Interests of the Child:

It is also important to mention that according to the CRC, the best interests of the child should always be taken into account in decision-making[3]. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child[4] says that a child should grow up in a family environment, where they can experience harmonious development of their personality and potential. The UN General Assembly resolution on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children from 2019 also confirms and reinforces this principle. Furthermore, when discussing a child’s best interests, one should take into account Article 12 from the CRC, which enables children to participate in decisions made about them.

The interests of the child should be placed above all others, including parents, potential adoptive parents, foster parents, or staff at the institutions. States should prioritize the role of families in the life of children. States should also seek to prevent the separation of children. It is the State’s responsibility to establish high-quality family-based alternatives within the communities to better protect those children who do not have parental care, and to also recognize how harmful institutionalization can be[5]

Deinstitutionalisation Policy in Bulgaria:

In order for deinstitutionalisation to occur, Bulgaria established a national strategy “Vision for Deinstitutionalisation of Children in Bulgaria”. It intends to make deinstitutionalisation a reality in the following way:

  • Each child’s individual needs should be assessed, including parental capacity evaluation and the opportunity of the child to grow up in his/her family.
  • No child should be removed from an institution without a plan of action and care developed in collaboration with the people who take care of him/her and will do so in the future, and without featuring their birth family when possible.
  • State should endeavour to ensure the maintenance of contact and emotional connection between the biological family and the child, whenever possible.
  • All institutions intended for closure accommodation need to be provided in a family or family-like environment.
  • No institutions to be closed by moving children from one institution to another[6].

Analysis of Situation in Bulgaria:

It can be seen that even though Bulgaria pledged to undergo deinstitutionalisation, there is evidence it has still not done so fully. The reason for this is that according to the Bulgarian authorities, individual children were moved from larger institutions to smaller-scale ones, the number of which amounted to approximately 100[7]. However, the children were still as segregated and cut off from the broader community as before.

Even though the residences were called ‘group homes’ or described as ‘family-like’, they were located on the periphery of communities and most of them were 14-bed facilities. Moreover, they were also run by one local authority, which left a few administrators responsible for dozens of children. As a result, this led to the separation of children from society and contributed to their continued social isolation[8].

 Furthermore, children were not provided with an option to choose where or who they want to live with, which is a child’s right under the CRC to be involved in all matters concerning them[9]. Lastly, while Bulgaria’s efforts have been focused on moving children from large institutions to small ones, little has been done to promote true inclusion in families or societies at large. This means that Bulgaria has failed to create a community support system, inclusive education, or transition to independent living, all of which would help children remain with their families.


To conclude, it can be seen that deinstitutionalisation is necessary so children can enjoy harmonious development in a family or family-like environment. In addition, even though Bulgaria has set itself the ambitious goal of deinstitutionalisation of childcare, the issues mentioned in the previous section still need to be addressed so this process is completed.

[1] Csaky, C. 2009. Keeping children out of harmful situations: Why we should be investing in family-based care. (Online). (Accessed on 06/05/2024). Available from:

[2] Ivanova, V. and Bogdanov, G. 2013. The Deinstitutionalization of Children in Bulgaria- the Role of the EU. Social Policy and Administration. 47(2). pp. 199-217

[3] United Nations. 1989. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Treaty Series 1577 (November): 3

[4] Preamble of CRC

[5]UN General Assembly. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 2019. Rights of the Child. (accessed 03/05/2024)

[6] National strategy “Vision for deinstitutionalization of children in Bulgaria”, Sofia, 2010

[7] Validity. 2021. Investigating Bulgaria’s failed approach to deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities – new report. (Online). (Accessed on 16/12/2023). Available from:

[8] Rosenthal, E. Milovanovic, D. Ahern, L. No date. A dead end for children: Bulgaria’s group homes. (Online). (Accessed on 16/12/2023). Available from:

[9] UN Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner. Convention on the rights of the child. 1989. professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx (accessed June 28, 2019), Article 12

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